By alison phinney on July 21, 2017
“Music is stimulating, it gives you opportunities to participate, in choruses and music groups, and activities that are music inclined, it’s just a great way to take part in the life of the city”
These are the words of Don, a gentleman I met some years ago as part of a research study. He wanted me to understand why music was so important to him. Don had sung in choirs for most of his life, but as his dementia progressed it became harder for him to keep up with the group, and by the time we met, he had stopped attending altogether. He still loved to sing and his voice remained strong and true, but the opportunity to participate as a member of his community was gone.
This is why I was so excited to hear that the Health Arts Society had launched the Helena Choir to provide a comfortable and inclusive environment that welcomes people with dementia who like to sing, but who may need a bit of extra support to follow along. The Helena Choir started rehearsing in February under the direction of Kathryn Nicholson, and they performed their first concert in May at the Shaughnessy Heights United Church. I’m no music reviewer, but I do love a good choir and this one was fantastic. Their singing was rich and joyful; everyone was on the mark and clearly having a lot of fun.
Choir singing for people with dementia is a great idea, and it is one that is beginning to gain traction elsewhere. There is a growing body of research showing that it is associated with better health outcomes: it provides social connection, enhances mood, and may even support cognitive function. And beyond individual benefits, I would argue that these choirs are also creating healthier communities – challenging stigma and promoting inclusion by showing us how people with dementia can continue to participate as active social citizens.
The Helena Choir will be reconvening in the fall and there will be another concert toward the end of the year. I will be there for sure, and this time I will take a few friends along. It is exciting to see a community come together like this, making beautiful music and keeping people with dementia active, involved, and contributing to the life of the city.